What Are the 5 Characteristics of Depression?

Medically Reviewed on 1/21/2022

5 characteristics of depression

signs of depression
Although depression includes a wide range of symptoms, here are the 5 most common characteristics of the condition.

Depressive symptoms vary from person to person, ranging from mild to severe and acute or chronic.

Despite a huge range of symptoms here are five of the most common characteristics that the majority of people with depression experience:

  1. Low mood/low interest in activities enjoyed previously:
    • Low interest or feeling depressed for more than two weeks is an alarming sign to seek immediate help.
    • Bad mood and low self-esteem do not allow to take pleasure from activities that were previously enjoyed.
  2. Trouble concentrating:
    • Lack of focus, brain fog, and forgetfulness to an extreme level makes a person unable to perform daily routine activities.
    • These hamper personal, professional, and social life.
  3. Changes in appetite or sleep:
  4. Feeling hopeless/worthless:
    • Negative thoughts about life and worldly things
    • Feeling guilty and not worth living
  5. Thoughts of suicide:
    • Feelings of sadness, grief and unfavorable life events may trigger suicidal attempts.

Additional symptoms of depression include:

  • Always tired (fatigue)
  • Chronic pain and headache
  • Digestive problems that do not get better
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Inability to make decisions

What is depression?

Feeling lonely, sad, and low at times is a normal human reaction to stressful life events. The majority of us experience these feelings at one point in our lives. However, when this feeling lasts for a longer period, increases in intensity, or affects our personal, professional, or social life, it is termed depression (a mood disorder).

It is estimated that 1 in every 15 adults is affected by depression every year.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2016, approximately 16.2 million adults in the United States have depression.

What causes depression?

Researchers speculate that depressed people have a smaller hippocampus (a part of the brain responsible for memory storage) than normal individuals.

This smaller hippocampus has a low number of serotonin receptors. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that allows communication across circuits connecting the brain that process emotions.

Some experts believe that excess production of cortisol (stress hormone) could be the reason for the shrinking of the hippocampus, whereas some say that depressed people are born with a smaller hippocampus.

Depression is a complex disease with no exact cause known. It can be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, biological, and psychological factors.

Other contributing factors linked to this condition include:

  • Age: More common in adults and the elderly.
  • Gender: Women are two times more likely to be affected than men.
  • Personality: People who are pessimistic and easily overwhelmed by stress are more likely to experience depression.
  • Family history: Children and siblings of depressed people are more vulnerable.
  • Medical illnesses: Chronic or serious medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, cancer, and human immunodeficiency virus can trigger depression.
  • Grief: Death or separation of a loved one may lead to depression.
  • Loneliness: Depression may be more likely in certain people such as elderly individuals living alone.
  • Conflicts: Disputes with family or friends could lead to people being depressed.
  • Abuse: Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse in childhood could cause depression later in life.
  • Major life events: Stressful life events such as losing a job, business failure, getting divorced, and becoming homeless can increase the risk of depression.
  • Medications: Beta-blockers, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, isotretinoin (used to treat acne), interferon-alpha, and corticosteroids can increase the risk of depression.
  • Substance abuse: Alcohol, tobacco, nicotine, opioids (codeine and morphine), and other recreational drugs can alleviate mood temporarily but eventually aggravate depression.


Depression is a(n) __________ . See Answer

7 types of depression

The 7 types of depression include:

  1. Major depression:
    • This is the classic type of depression.
    • People lose interest in previously pleasurable activities.
    • They have feelings of guilt and worthlessness and find it difficult to focus on tasks.
  2. Persistent depressive disorder or dysthymia:
    • Low mood lasts for most of the days for more than two years.
    • The daily routine is followed, but a person feels sad or low most of the time.
  3. Bipolar disorder or manic-depressive disorder:
    • Contradictory episodes of severe depression are followed by mania (extreme high-energy moods).
    • Manic episodes may range in intensity from mild to severe during which the person may feel energetic and have unrealistic grandiose ideas(feeling great).
  4. Seasonal affective disorder:
    • A person experiences a depressed mood in the fall and winter.
    • Symptoms are alleviated with increased exposure to natural light in spring and summer.
  5. Perinatal depression or postpartum depression:
    • This depression is unique to women because it is influenced by reproductive hormones.
    • Depression occurs during pregnancy or after delivery.
    • It affects one in every seven women after childbirth.
  6. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD):
    • PMDD exclusively affects women.
    • Symptoms typically begin after ovulation (egg release) and end within a few days after the menstrual flow starts.
  7. Psychotic depression:
    • It is depression along with psychotic symptoms such as delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not seen or heard by others).
    • It is a serious condition that often needs hospitalization.

How is depression diagnosed?

If you experience mood or cognitive changes that last for more than a few weeks, it is best to consult a mental health specialist to help sort out possible causes.

There is no single test that can diagnose depression; a thorough physical examination along with the medical and family history is the key to diagnosing and treating the condition.

How is depression treated?

Depression is a risk factor for heart disease and dementia. Unfortunately, about half the people never get it diagnosed or treated.

Treatment of depression may consist of the following:

  • Diet: Eat a healthy and nutritious diet.
  • Physical activity: Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day for five days a week.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Avoid or quit smoking, alcohol, and other habit-forming drugs.
  • Psychotherapy or talk therapy: It is a specific form of counseling.
    • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
    • Interpersonal therapy
  • Medications:
  • Electroconvulsive therapy:
    • An electric current is passed through the brain to correct chemical (neurotransmitter) imbalances causing depression.
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation:
    • Magnetic fields are used through a noninvasive device to target a specific part of the brain.
  • Vagus nerve stimulation:
    • It involves surgical implantation of a device under the collarbone that sends regular impulses to the brain.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/21/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

Six common depression types Harvard Health Publishing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/six-common-depression-types

Debra Bruce Causes of Depression WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/causes-depression


Depression NIH: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression

What is Depression American Psychiatric Association: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression